Toward the middle of May, I had a group of kindergartners for a nature walk. What was supposed to be a half-hour walk about the five senses and nature turned into a full hour, as the children had so many questions and we saw so many things that they wanted to know more about. Before we started the walk, when I was talking about why we watch animals from a safe distance and we don't feed them, one child asked me if we would see any wild animals. I told them maybe, but if we wanted to watch them, we would have to be very quiet and very still. As we were walking, one little boy wanted to walk with the girls at the head of the line, but they didn't want him to. I told him he could walk with me, and we strolled along, hand in hand. As we crossed one of the bridges on the trail, my little friend and I saw a chipmunk, very engrossed in doing chipmunk things. We stopped, pointed, and all seventeen children went suddenly very still and very silent. They stayed that way until one of the adults sneezed and scared the chipmunk into its burrow. Must have been a good five minutes, though, which is a tremendous amount of time for a five or six year old.
During the course of the walk, as they were asking me about woodpecker holes and learning why woodpeckers don't get headaches, one little boy who had hung back throughout most of the walk and didn't like to be touched or crowded, sidled up next to me. I put out my hand, and he took it and he and I and my other little friend all walked together for the rest of the way. Later, the teacher, who has been bringing children to the park for nature walks for over twenty years, came up to me and told me I had the touch, that the second little boy rarely lets anyone touch him. I think maybe it was because I recognized that it wasn't that he didn't want to take part, but that he needed some space, and I made sure he got it, rather than leaving him on the fringe of the activities. Whatever it was, I'm glad all the kids had such a good time.
As a matter of fact, at least one of them had such a good time, that he pestered his mom into bringing the whole family back. I bumped into them on the trail on Saturday and he recognized me. I stopped and talked with them all for a bit, and them I asked Rowan what he liked best from his earlier trip to the park. He didn't have to think about it, he immediately blurted out "Watching the big birds!" meaning the osprey pair that nest on the island 100 yards offshore. And this is why I do what I do.